Amid a fierce information war between voter fraud deniers, mainstream media and independent journalists, Project Veritas released audio yesterday of Pennsylvania USPS whistleblower and military veteran Richard Hopkins being interrogated by federal investigators about his concerns regarding possible ballot backdating. The 2-hour recording was released on the heels of a Washington Post article that falsely claimed Hopkins had recanted his original statement.
In what has been tagged #BackDateGate on Twitter, the story began when Hopkins received troubling instructions on Nov. 5 from his superiors at an Eerie, PA post office about the handling of ballots received after Election Day. Suspicious of these directives vis a vis PA law concerning ballot deadlines, Hopkins then overheard two of his supervisors quietly discussing ballots and postmarks. Alarmed and “freaked out” by what appeared to him as tampering, he contacted independent media production company Project Veritas, because he didn't know who to trust.
Project Veritas videotaped a shrouded Hopkins testimony and assisted him in filing a sworn affidavit. The release struck a blow to the large-scale effort currently underway to delegitimize election fraud claims in key swing states including Pennsylvania. When Hopkins returned to work, he says he was met by representatives of the American Postal Union who began questioning him about long-resolved issues involving his employment. Fearing impending blow-back, Hopkins told Project Veritas he wanted to unmask himself. Veritas founder James O'Keefe encouraged him to set up a crowdfunding campaign as a life raft in the event that he was terminated from his job. The Go Fund Me campaign raised more than $100,000 before being frozen days later. (Go Fund Me has a history of canceling campaigns that clash with its sociopolitical ideologies.) He also gave him a recording device or “wire” to use at work in case anyone tried to intimidate him.
At this point, Senator Lindsay Graham got wind of Hopkins' story and said he would incorporate it into the Senate Judiciary Committee's election-fraud investigation, a development that brought even more attention to Hopkins and the USPS.
On Nov. 9, USPS Office of the Inspector General investigator Russell Strasser and USPS Postal Inspector Charles “Chris” Klein showed up at his workplace and conducted an unscheduled interview with Hopkins who was wearing the wire provided by Project Veritas.
“I'm not willing to give up until they fire me,” Hopkins says at the beginning of the discussion, adding, “I'm an introverted person, I don't like to be noticed.” Strasser attempts to put Hopkins at ease, with what some have criticized as manipulative and misleading language to gain trust and, ultimately, submission.
“I actually believe what you're saying,” he tells Hopkins, “ but we need to make sure it's 1,000 percent correct. What I want to do, in the best way I can protect you, is to leave today with the absolute truth, the barest truth, that nobody can chip away at.” He continues, “I'm literally going to be here in your corner, OK?”
Strasser then goes over Hopkins' rights as a citizen of the U.S. before having him initial documents to verify that he understands: The right to remain silent, the right to not be punished for his silence, the right to leave the interview at any time, the right to not be coerced into signing. After small talk about military service, Strasser asks Hopkins if he has legal representation. He says no, though Veritas lawyers are available should he need them. “I ask because I'm protecting your rights,” says Strasser.
Strasser never advises that Hopkins might want to have a lawyer present and doesn't give him the option to contact one before proceeding. Instead, he lets him know that the absence of a lawyer means he doesn't have to interrupt the proceedings waiting for one to show up, saying, “That's a hurdle we don't have to jump.” Then he apologizes for the “legalese.”
Hopkins mentions that he studied criminal justice and is not intimidated by legal discussion, but rather enjoys it. Strasser laughs and says, “Well, sit back brother, 'cause you're about to learn!”
This is where Strasser begins what some legal experts have characterized as coercive interrogation through the use of tactics that, while not uncommon in investigation settings, can be employed unethically.
In a series of tweets, Wednesday evening, attorney Leslie McAdoo Gordon gave a brief analysis of the audio, accusing Strasser of “completely inappropriate conduct.” While she admitted that the interview wasn't handled as poorly as it could have been, mainly due to Hopkins' good character, she wrote that Strasser did use bullying to establish control of Hopkins—something he would not have gotten away with had a lawyer been present. McAdoo Gordon also expressed concern about Strasser's repeated insistence that he was there to “protect” Hopkins. “That is a lie,” she tweeted. “ He reassures Hopkins of it many, many times in various formulations during the interview to make Hopkins believe it's true, but it's not.”
McAdoo Gordon also squashed the idea that Hopkins recanted his original testimony. While he did rephrase one small portion of his story, throughout the interview he maintained his position that highly suspicious handling of ballots was occurring at the Eerie, PA post office, both before and after Election Day.
After an exhaustive analysis of what Hopkins had overheard his superiors discussing on Nov. 5, Strasser eventually manages to get Hopkins to agree to rewrite a paragraph in his affidavit. Hopkins was led to the conclusion by Strasser that what he actually heard had been slightly embellished by his “logical assumption” of what they were discussing. In other words, his gut feeling, coupled with unusual official directives concerning ballot handling caused him to fill in some blanks, but the actual words he overheard were not enough to build a case on. As McAdoo Gordon explained, “He never says the original facts in his affidavit were false or did not happen. The very most he says is that it is possible that he may have misunderstood or made assumptions. That is definitely not a recantation.”
This statement from McAdoo Gordon echoes Hopkins' own rebuttal to the Washington Post article (published before Veritas released the audio, likely using leaked information provided by Strasser) which maintained Hopkins' had entirely recanted his testimony. Other news outlets piggybacked on the article causing a storm of misinformation in mainstream media that quickly flooded social media environments.
While reporters and pundits were busy trying to discredit Hopkins on Wednesday, Project Veritas tweeted screenshots of what it called a “burner” anti-Trump Twitter account secretly managed by Strasser. As of this morning, that account no longer exists.
Hopkins, currently suspended without pay, was able to launch his fundraiser on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo where he has raised $211,000 in just a few days.